“Old people used to be young, but young people did not use to be old” is a direct translation from one of the well-known Cambodian sayings. Simply, this saying tells us that we have to respect older people, their experience, wisdom, knowledge and etc.
Likewise, we, students, should respect teachers because they have walked on the path on which we’re walking and may have something nice to tell us about that path.
Some students have tried to fight against this, but I think it is not the right thing to do. Let me tell you my true story of going against my teacher and its consequence, and you consider whether you should do it or not.
The actual event happened when I was in grade 10, but it actually began when I was in grade 9, the grade that is considered by Cambodian students as one of the two biggest academic cornerstones of high school education in Cambodia (the other one is grade 12).
In Cambodian Educational system defined by the Ministry of Education Youths and Sports, all grade 9 students must take a national examination to determine whether they are able to pass this grade or not. So, most grade 9 students take this exam so seriously by studying so hard in school and even taking some private tutorials on some particularly important subjects such as Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Khmer literature.
There was no exception for me back then. So, I had to conform to the system. At that time, I knew I was weak on many subjects, and in order to be well prepared for the national exam, I also took some private classes at a place called Toto near Chaktomouk high school, Phnom Penh capital, Cambodia.
At Toto, there were (and still are, I think) many good and famous teachers offering private classes, so I took three subjects such as Maths, Physics, and Chemistry. When I say those teachers were good, I really mean that or else they wouldn’t have been able to attract students from schools all over Phnom Penh to study with them.
The system at that place was simple. You pay hourly for classes that you want to attend. If you are present, you pay and if you are not, you don’t pay. At that time, I paid like 1000 riel/hour (USD$0.25 using 2010 exchange rate), but still a bit more expensive if compared to the fee charged by teachers at other places.
Particularly for Maths, I was being taught by Mr. Keo Chamruern, one of the best and well-known Mathematics teachers for grade 9 back then. (Because he had been famous for years, a lot of students had known and knew him). I took his private tutorial for the whole year of grade 9 and he knew me clearly.
I may sound like I am boasting but I was one his favorite students in the class. I was rarely absent from his class; I might skip other teachers’ classes but not his maybe because I liked Maths and him as a teacher. Frankly speaking, I actually felt that I learnt more from him than from my teacher at high school though I spent more time studying with my high school teacher.
Amongst all the ten subjects I was studying at grade 9, I excelled at only Maths, and for the rest I just hit the passing scores (I even failed some subjects such as Geography, History, etc). So, I loved Maths a lot and took time to practice doing exercises very often until most of my classmates took notice how good I was at Maths.
Luckily, I was chosen to compete in school’s students-good-at-Maths competition, but unfortunately other people were better than I was. The failure did not disappoint or stop me from moving forward in the direction I wanted, which is ‘to be as good as I could in Maths’.
But after I passed grade 9 to grade 10, my dream seemed to be kind of impossible to achieve because I was put into a class with a Maths teacher whom, I thought, knew Maths less than I did, and that was exactly when I challenged him to prove my point and also release my stress.
Let me describe my feeling then when I saw my Maths teacher. For a man, he was short, never combed his hair properly before coming to teach, talked softly and slowly, dressed very simple, always left his motorbike in front of the classroom, and worst of all, smelled very badly (I felt headache whenever he came close to me to explain the lesson). Overall, he looked, to me, like a retarded man (again, beauty is in the eye of the beholders; other people might have seen him differently).
When I first met him, you can bet I did not respect, let alone like him. Because I had negatively prejudged him without caring what he had to say, I did not listen to his advice at all. Most of the time, I tried to avoid participating in classroom activities or skip his classes.
Sometimes while he was giving lectures, I would jump out of the classroom’s window to play volleyball with my friends. I did not know why but he did not do anything about me jumping out of the windows at all. He just did not have the authority that all teachers had.
Sometimes, I would come to his session half an hour late without telling him the reasons or saying sorry to him at all. I just stormed in and sat down in my seat, and he did not care either. I doubted whether he just ignored me or was fed up with what I did.
Knowledge-wise, though I did not attend his class regularly like my other classmates did, I was able to pass all his tests and believed that I knew more than he did. Somehow, I could apply what I had learnt in grade 9 for grade 10’s tests.
One day, I wanted to prove that I was better than him. So, I took some Grade 10’s most difficult Maths exercises from sources besides the course book and asked him in front of all my classmates.
At that one session, when he asked whether anyone had any questions, I raised my hand up, ran to the board, wrote down 2 exercises and asked him to solve them. For around 15 minutes, he pretended trying to figure them out and write something on the board (but, I knew it was not the answer).
Finally, he gave up and said he could not do it, even more softly than his usual tone. Then, he sat head down into his desk for around 5 minutes embarrassingly and rushed out of the class without saying anything at all, knowing that he had 20 minutes more to go for the session.
Everybody in my class was shocked. For me, I was laughing with pride. While some of my classmates shared my laughter, some did not and warned me that I had just made a big mistake. I did not care about those words because I just won the game and proved my point.
Therefore, for the whole semester I, all I did with him was just that: when I stayed in class, I would challenge him like a dual Maths competition or I would just skip his classes to hang out with my friends and play volleyball.
Then, when the first semester’s exam came, I was shocked because I could hardly pass the test (usually I would top the class’s Maths score chart). It was like a wake-up call for me: if I had been better than my teacher, why would I have found the semester’s exam so difficult? If I had been truly better than him, I would have completed those exercises appeared in the test with ease?
Because of that alarm, I took a different approach when the second semester came. I started to pay attention to his lectures. For sure, they were not as good as those given by the teacher offering private tutorials. But his lectures were just enough for me to understand Maths lessons if I watched my ego carefully, stayed focused, and followed his explanation through.
Instead of challenging him like what I had done before, I helped him in his explanation for the betterment of the whole class. Everybody including him was happy because he got my respect and the class got knowledge. That strategy brought synergy of knowledge to the class. I think you can guess the ultimate result of that approach?
Again, I topped the class in Maths in semester II, most of my classmates began to like Maths and did well in Maths, and I earned my teacher’s respect by giving him his.
In a nutshell, people let alone your teachers need respect. As students, what we can do best to honor our teachers is to give them respect for their knowledge, wisdom, and sacrifice they have done for us. Having said that, I don’t mean that you have to bow whenever you see your teachers or applaud them even though they are making mistakes or doing the wrong things. What I actually mean is that you should let them save face. If you spot their mistakes, you should not shout out loud and let everyone know, but tell your teachers quietly and constructively. In class, if you want to clarify your doubts, you can do it in a respectful and polite manner. Always respect your teachers. Respect so that you will be respected. (If you want to learn how to gain your teachers’ respect, read: 7 ways to gain your teachers’ respect.)